Modern history


An End to Revolution 1799–1802

As 1799 began, amid renewed foreign war and continued political strife, the stability that alone could ensure permanence for the Revolution’s achievements seemed as far away as ever. Yet vast reserves of potential support awaited any regime that could achieve that stability, and that permanence. The peasants of the Seine-et-Oise to the west of Paris, wrote a directorial commissioner,

are not in the least partisans of royalty, the memory of tithes and rents being odious to them. They are quite satisfied that their harvests should have doubled since the extinction of game rights, they recognise and greatly value the possession of equality. Many of them have bought national lands and all have improved their position, so that when they compare the old order to the new they give their preference to the latter. But the evils of the old order are far away, and they remember only the evils that have been brought upon them by the revolutionary turmoil. French victories appeal to a section of them, but do not touch them greatly, because they are purchased at the cost of their sons’ blood, and the peasantry are not sufficiently committed to accept such sacrifices. They neglect the exercise of civic rights because exercising these rights has exhausted them. They still give themselves to the priests more out of stubbornness than any other sentiment. This picture proves that it only requires peace, tranquility and a certain period of calm to make them like the Revolution again.1

But could the Revolution—meaning the directorial regime—ever hope to achieve this peace, tranquillity, and calm? Fewer and fewer people seemed to think so.

Apart from the renewal of warfare, and the Directory’s obvious intention to create armies to fight it by conscription, which had already brought the Belgian departments out in revolt, it was clear that once again they were intending to rig the annual elections. While the ministry of the interior issued the usual proclamations denouncing the twin evils of royalism and ‘anarchy’, electoral assemblies were tacitly invited once more to split, and individual Directors endorsed acceptable candidates in regions where they believed themselves influential. ‘Whatever the choice of the people,’ declared one provincial electoral official, ‘the government will only accept those it has designated’.2 But, despite the lowest turnout so far in an election (influenced it is true by royalist boycotts) electoral assemblies were returned which refused to accept the directorial lead. Only 66 of 187 endorsed candidates were elected. Twenty-seven assemblies split, producing rival lists of candidates as in 1798. But this time it was the turn of the outgoing Councils to spurn the executive line. Deputies returned as reliable in Floréal now showed themselves narrowly constitutionalist, and in all but two cases they accepted the elections made by the larger faction in split assemblies. This let in some 50 Jacobins or fellow-travellers, including some purged in Floréal. Without the support of other deputies they were nowhere near a majority, but there were plenty of more moderate deputies discontented for their own reasons with the Directory. By the time the new Councils convened on 20 May news of military defeat was pouring in from all fronts. And their predecessors had ended their sittings with a final gesture of no confidence. When lots were drawn for the Director to retire, Reubell, the most self-confident among them, lost his place. Elected to succeed him on 16 May was a long-time critic of the constitution, Sieyès, currently ambassador to Berlin. In contrast to 1795, he did not refuse to serve. Apparently he believed that the moment was now ripe to make the sort of changes he had long believed necessary.

The opening of the new Councils therefore precipitated a political crisis, with a divided executive, a volatile legislature, and a military emergency potentially as serious as that of 1793. Almost at once a savage attack was launched on the Directory, with the newly nominated Sieyès standing ostentatiously aside. On 6 June the Five Hundred summoned the executive to explain the defeats suffered by the armies. Corrupt and profiteering contractors, Jacobins alleged, had kept the Republic’s forces undersupplied, and Directors no less corrupt had connived at the malversations of these ‘dilapidators’. The Directory, its unity gone, stood paralysed before the onslaught, and made no response. A week later the Five Hundred resolved to go into permanent session until it replied, and the Elders followed their lead. It was now claimed, too, that Treilhard had come to office illegally the year before, twelve months not having elapsed since he had ceased to be a deputy. The issue had been thoroughly ventilated when he had been chosen, and the same rule should now have excluded Sieyès. But Treilhard chose not to fight and resigned. Elected to succeed him was Gohier, a left-leaning bureaucratic nonentity who sided with Sieyès. Barras, always the trimmer, did the same. La Revellière and Merlin had been reduced to a minority on the executive, therefore, when the Councils turned their fire on them, accusing them of violating the constitution in organizing the Floréal purge. Their three colleagues now urged them to resign to avoid the impeachment which seemed destined otherwise to follow, unless the military intervened first. Sieyès’s favourite general, Joubert, made appropriately fierce noises. After hours of agonizing, they agreed to resign, and more relative nonentities, the regicide Ducos, and Moulin, an untested general, were installed in their places on 18 June. This was the coup of Prairial: the first and only occasion on which the Councils purged the Directory and not the other way round. The legislature, exulted Lucien Bonaparte, younger brother of the conqueror of Italy and now a leftwardly inclined deputy, had resumed its rightful leading place in the constitution. And certainly the Councils’ attack had been fuelled by resentment across a wide spectrum of opinion at the gerrymanderings of the previous year. But what gave it impact was the co-ordinating role of Sieyès. It placed the executive power effectively in his hands, a degree of concentration not seen since the days of Robespierre. And Sieyès’s aim was to diminish the power of the legislature, not increase it.

First to realize how they had been misled were the Jacobins. As the main victims of Floréal, they saw themselves as the main beneficiaries now it was avenged. Suppressed for over a year, their newspapers began to appear once more, and freedom of the press was declared on 1 August. On 6 July a new club was announced, the Manège Club, meeting in the historic and heroic surroundings of the old Convention hall in the Tuileries, and presided over by members of the surviving Jacobin old guard like Drouet, now chiefly known as a former Babeuf collaborator. Jacobins reappeared in public office, too: Ramel was replaced at the financial ministry by Lindet. Above all, as the news from the front continued to get worse, a stream of Jacobin-inspired legislation was passed by the Councils. On 28 June the Jourdan conscription law was activated in its fullest form: all those between 20 and 25 eligible for military service were to be conscripted at once, and nobody was to be allowed to buy a substitute. Jourdan himself, as a deputy, moved this measure, which he described in so many words as a new levée en masse. At the same time he proposed a forced loan on the rich, designed to raise 100 millions for waging the war. By this time the armies no longer occupied much foreign territory off which they could live as they had done since 1794, so the Republic was inevitably thrust back on to her own resources. The rates of the loan would be punitive for the richest citizens. Both these measures evoked haunting memories of the Year II. Even worse was the Law of Hostages, passed on 12 July. Under it, resistance to the new measures, or indeed any other, could lead to a department or district being declared ‘disturbed’. In such places, the authorities were empowered to arrest relatives of émigrés or nobles, imprison them at their own expense, and fine them and impound their property to pay for any damage done by those causing disturbances. No proven links with those responsible were required. Taken together, these laws seemed to announce a return to sansculotte terror, threatening the rich and the propertied above all. Previous forced loans in 1793 and 1796 had certainly been targeted on them, while the Law of Hostages recalled the Law of Suspects, but gave those implementing it even wider powers. Emboldened by their success in pushing these laws through, the Jacobins went on to move the impeachment of the fallen Directors and their minister of war, General Schérer, who was accused of massive corruption. But under the constitution such indictments required thirty days and three readings to be enacted, and this gave time for Sieyès to orchestrate measures to curb the Jacobin momentum. As president of the Directory, he used the anniversaries of the Revolution’s great moments—14 July, 27 July (9 Thermidor), and 10 August—to issue public warnings against the bloody perils of extremism. A press campaign was also orchestrated against the Manège Club, which was accused of seeking to bring in the constitution of 1793. With a membership of 3,000, including perhaps 250 deputies, its stirring sessions certainly awoke memories of headier times. But it also encountered much barracking and harassment from royalist gangs, which in turn evoked post-Thermidorian clashes. It was therefore very easy to portray the club as a threat to public order, and on 26 July the Elders were persuaded on these grounds to expel it (like the Feuillants in 1791) from the legislature’s precincts. It moved to another historic site in the rue du Bac, across the river, resentment making its members even shriller. On 13 August, finally, it was closed down by the new minister of police, a man who knew more about Jacobinism than most: Fouché. This was the lead the Councils needed. Most deputies had never been Jacobin, and they were now anxious not to be carried further down the paths of extremism. Five days later, although by only three votes, the Five Hundred threw out the indictments against Merlin, La Revellière, and Schérer.

It was not quite the end of the Jacobin resurgence, however. The emergency which had done so much to fuel it was far from over. For some weeks, in fact, it continued to worsen. Joubert, sent to Italy to establish himself as the Republic’s leading general, was killed on 15 August and his army catastrophically defeated at Novi. No sooner had this news reached Paris than it was announced that the British and Russians had landed in Holland and the Dutch fleet had gone over to them. Internal insurrection had also broken out, for the first time since 1797. Encouraged by the formation of an international coalition and its initial successes, monarchist organizations which had lain low throughout 1798 now hurriedly put together plans for risings to coincide with the expected invasions. In the south-west, they planned to engulf the Jacobin stronghold of Toulouse with a peasant army swollen by refugees from the new conscription law. Throughout the spring politically motivated lawlessness mounted around Toulouse. In July the local directorial agent reported, ‘Several republicans assassinated, the properties of a greater number burned or destroyed, Liberty trees chopped down or uprooted in more than 40 communes.’3 Three weeks later, on 5 August, the countryside rose. Ten thousand men flocked to the white Bourbon flag now raised, although most of them were unarmed. For a month civil war raged along the upper Garonne, claiming over 4,000 casualties. But, despite the absence of regular troops, the rebels never captured Toulouse, and National Guards from surrounding departments rushed in to reinforce it. Supporting uprisings in neighbouring cities like Bordeaux, Dax, or Agen never went beyond a few scuffles. The defeat of this outbreak by Toulouse, the only major city to stay consistently in Jacobin hands throughout all the vicissitudes of the Directory, was an embarrassment for Sieyès, who at this very moment was trying to clamp down on the left-wing press in Paris. His enemies in the Councils saw the opportunity to recover their momentum: and on 13 September Jourdan moved in the Five Hundred that the country should be declared in danger, under the law of 5 July 1792 which gave emergency powers to all authorities. An impassioned debate followed, Jacobins urging that the revolutionary enthusiasm of former days needed to be rekindled if the Republic was to survive, their opponents arguing that to declare the Country in Danger was a makeshift expedient no longer appropriate in a better-organized state, while others warned that to suspend normal procedures would open the way, as it had before, to 1793. This was the argument which counted. On a vote, the motion was defeated by 245 votes to 171, a clear signal of confidence in the new Directory and its anti-Jacobin policy.

Within days, moreover, this confidence proved justified. Suddenly the armies began to win. In the Batavian Republic, the Anglo-Russian invaders were turned back by Brune and Daendels on 19 September and within a month had been forced to evacuate the country. In Switzerland the Russians, abandoned by the main Austrian army which Thugut now diverted to secure objectives in the Rhineland, were caught divided, severely mauled, and by the end of September had evacuated the Helvetic Republic. Sieyès saw that, with the armies once more achieving victories and the Councils in confusion, a ripe moment had come to make changes. Now was the time to strengthen the executive permanently. Nor could it be done in any constitutional way—the procedures were too long and complex. It had to be by coup d’état, and the changes would be so profound that military support would be essential. The problem was to find a reliable general. Joubert, his original preference, was dead. Jourdan was a Jacobin. Moreau, when approached early in October, was visibly reluctant. It was at precisely this moment that Bonaparte landed. ‘There is your man,’ declared Moreau. He was right, but only in the short run.

Landing on 10 October, Bonaparte took another six days to reach Paris. His progress north was one long triumph, with deputations, addresses, and jubilant crowds gathered to greet the peacemaker of 1797, the Republic’s one undefeated general. In the capital, too, everybody sought him out—his record aroused hopes right across the political spectrum. As in the winter of 1797–8, he behaved modestly, but he needed time to appraise a situation much changed since May 1798. Nevertheless nobody could afford to wait long. The crisis in the Republic’s affairs was far from over. The Austrians were still in control of Italy, threatening the Alpine frontier, and in the west, the last fortnight in October saw a renewed outburst of chouannerie. Alarmed by the sweeping new law on conscription, the leaders of the various chouan bands had agreed in mid-September to resume their activities on behalf of the king. On 14 October they engulfed Le Mans, 3,000 strong, and spent four days ransacking it for arms and supplies. Other major cities, such as Nantes, were also briefly occupied. Not only Jacobinism, therefore, threatened the Republic in the autumn of 1799. Both the extremes between which the Directory had endlessly see-sawed seemed as alive as ever, further underlining its inadequacies. Sieyès, accordingly, was soon in touch with Bonaparte, first indirectly, then face to face. The general did not like him, but he saw that he could use him. Sieyès for his part underestimated this soldier without experience in the labyrinthine world of Parisian politics, a man who had always projected himself as direct and simple. But, each for his own reasons, they agreed to co-operate in enforcing constitutional change. Bonaparte’s brother, now president of the Five Hundred, was also closely involved; as were Fouché, and Talleyrand, once more out of office and looking for a way back in.

The coup was dressed up as a final blow against Jacobinism. Alleging a plot, on 9 November Lucien Bonaparte induced the Councils to agree to transfer their sessions to the suburban security of the former royal palace of Saint-Cloud, far away from the influence of the Parisian populace: not that the populace had lifted a finger in politics since 1795. Bonaparte, who had saved the legislature from mass attack in that year, was appointed commander of all the troops available in the metropolitan area. Meanwhile the whole Directory, including Sieyès, resigned—although Gohier and Moulin only did so under pressure. France was now without an executive. The aim was to induce the Councils to establish a provisional government at Saint-Cloud, the next day, 18 Brumaire, Year VIII. But matters there did not go smoothly. Despite a massive show of military strength Bonaparte was coldly received by the Elders when he demanded constitutional changes, while in the Five Hundred, always the stronghold of the Jacobins, he was mobbed and manhandled to cries of ‘Outlaw him!’ Bleeding from a scratch received in the tumult, he was carried from the chamber. His brother, emerging subsequently, declared to the troops outside that Jacobins had tried to assassinate him. In the highly charged atmosphere this was enough to induce them to obey orders to clear the hall. Some hours later a compliant quorum was reassembled to vote, as the Elders had already done, to adjourn the legislature for six weeks while a joint committee of 50 deputies worked out a complete constitutional revision. Executive power during that time was vested in a provisional government of three Consuls—Ducos, Sieyès, and Bonaparte. The Directory was over.

Why had it failed? The Brumaire conspirators blamed the impossible structure of the constitution, which made the legislature too strong, and the executive too weak. In practice the Directory had controlled and dominated the Councils throughout most of the existence of the constitution of the Year III; but only by electoral manipulations and purges. ‘It is a great tragedy’, Bonaparte confided to Talleyrand after the Fructidor coup,4 ‘for a nation of 30 million inhabitants in the eighteenth century to have to call on bayonets to save the state.’ But he did not see the solution in a mere technical readjustment of the balance. He wanted a complete reversal. ‘The power of the government,’ he wrote in the same letter, ‘in all the latitude I would give it, ought to be considered as the true representative of the nation.’ The legislature would be part of the government, empowered to make general or (a favourite word) ‘organic’ laws. ‘Circumstantial’ laws would be the executive’s province. Sieyès, a self-proclaimed political genius, favoured no such open-ended executive power. He retained an Enlightened fear of despotism, and he dreamed of an elaborate system of checks and balances to keep the executive under the restraint of legality. The real problem in his view was elections. The nation was of course sovereign, as he himself had proclaimed in the Revolution’s distant springtime of 1789, but elections of the Directory type were not necessarily the best means of expressing that sovereignty. Those in authority, at every level, should certainly be people deemed worthy to exercise it by responsible fellow citizens; but should not be dependent on those over whom they held sway. ‘Confidence’, he declared,5 ‘comes from below, power comes from above.’

These were drastic solutions for a problem which arguably was more political than constitutional. The constitution of the Year III was never in fact given the chance to work properly. Its first elections were meaningless thanks to the Two Thirds Law, and all subsequent ones were sooner or later discounted. No wonder decreasing numbers of citizens bothered to vote, suspecting that after this empty ritual the Directory would exclude those of whom it disapproved anyway. After 1792, for all their talk of national or popular sovereignty, the men who ruled France never accepted the verdict of the electorate. Nor did they accept what all representative regimes sooner or later must: the inevitability of party politics. Imbued still with a Rousseauistic belief in a general will which all honest citizens share, they regarded political organizations as factions, illegitimate conspiracies against the constitution, designed to sow division rather than promote consensus. Thus neither neo-Jacobin clubs nor monarchist philanthropic institutes were ever given time to develop into the party organizations they might have become. They were tolerated from time to time, but only to the exclusion of each other. No serious attempt was made by the Directors, either, to create an organized centre or moderate party to concentrate their own support—although the endorsement of acceptable candidates in the 1799 elections perhaps showed them groping towards the idea. They seem to have considered the virtues of the Thermidorian republic self-evident to all right-thinking men; who would accordingly support them without further organization. They did so, but without conviction. Bonaparte was right when he declared in the Elders on 10 November that the constitution no longer had anyone’s respect. Even its self-appointed guardians had never trusted it to function freely.

Yet that stance, too, was not without some justification. The royalists in 1796 and 1797 may have been prepared to operate like a political party within the constitution, but their long-term aim was undoubtedly to overthrow it and bring in the king. That king in turn was explicitly committed to the reversal of everything done since June 1789. As for the Jacobins, they may have been sincere in professions, increasingly heard in 1799, that they were merely a party of honest democrats, legitimately organized to oppose those in power by constitutional means. If so, they were rash in the extreme to revert constantly to the rhetoric of the Year II, to keep green the memory of Babeuf, and lend vocal support to more radical elements in the sister republics. All this raised understandable fears that their true loyalty was still to the levelling constitution of 1793. And nothing in their attitude, or that of the royalists, suggests that once in power either would have been more tolerant of opposition than the Directory was. Neither had any interest in compromise or conciliation. Neither was prepared to recognize the good faith and legitimate interest of opponents.

The difficulties plaguing the Directory, then, were far from simply constitutional, and the constitution of the Year VIII, drafted within a month under relentless pressure from Bonaparte, did little to address them. What it did was give a plenitude of power to the executive which left no excuse for not confronting the deep and still unsolved problems created by the Revolution. At the base of the political system, all citizens were now allowed to vote for ‘those among them whom they believed most suitable to conduct public affairs’. But this merely meant a tenth of their own number who would then constitute a ‘communal list’. The latter in turn chose a tenth of themselves to constitute a departmental list. From them, a further tenth were chosen for the national list of ‘citizens eligible for national office’. This included membership of the legislature. The choice of members would be made by a new institution, the Senate, whose powers were not otherwise defined in the 95 articles of this laconic constitution. But Sieyès had long believed in the desirability of a ‘conservative power’ to vet the legality of the State’s activities. In 1795 he had proposed a ‘constitutional jury’ to perform these functions, but without success. Now, with the Senate, the idea was adopted, and he became the body’s first president. The legislature itself would remain bicameral, but whereas the lower house, the 100-member Tribunate, was to discuss all proposed legislation, it could not vote it. The upper house, the 300-member Legislative Body, did the voting—but could not discuss. Neither had any initiative in legislation. Draft laws came from the government alone, and were to be elaborated in a Council of State, a revival of a key institution of the old monarchy. Most of these provisions emanated from Sieyès. His ideas on the executive, however, were not adopted. Here at last General Bonaparte showed his true hand. Sieyès’s initial proposal was for an executive of two Consuls, one for internal and one for external affairs. They would be appointed, along with other members of the state apparatus, by a supreme officer, the ‘Grand Elector’, holding office for life but exercising no other authority—a sort of constitutional monarch in effect. Bonaparte was envisaged in this role. But from the start he made it clear that he had no intention of being what he called a ‘fatted pig’. He wanted real power, and in the final version he got it. There would be three Consuls, as since 10 November, but the first among them would have the overriding authority. Nobody doubted who it would be.

Completion of the new constitution was announced on 15 December. There was no referring back, as originally promised, to the former legislative Councils. It was to be approved by plebiscite, and for the revolutionary month of Nivôse (21 December 1799–20 January 1800) registers were open in every commune for citizens to record their approval or opposition. The result, announced early in February, gave 3,011,007 in favour and 1,562 against. Some six million did not vote at all, and creative methods were used to swell the numbers accepting. Yet it scarcely mattered. The constitution was brought into force in anticipation of popular acceptance on 25 December. It was, claimed its authors,6 ‘based on the true principle of representative government and on the sacred rights of property, equality and liberty. The powers which it sets up will be strong and stable, as they must be in order to guarantee the rights of citizen and the interests of the State. Citizens, the revolution is established on the principles with which it began. It is over.’

The effrontery in this statement was to become all too familiar over the fifteen years during which Bonaparte was to rule France. Only a handful of mutilated relics of the principles of 1789 could be discerned in the terse and ambiguous clauses of the consular constitution. And the First Consul was certainly not the first person to declare that the Revolution was over. But this time it was—or would be once the stability also promised became a reality. That depended on a satisfactory resolution of the issues which for a decade had torn France apart. Within two years they had been resolved: and for years afterwards most of the citizens of France thought a little effrontery, and the sacrifice of most of the principles of 1789, a small price to pay.

Many of the most serious problems of revolutionary France arose from the fact that for most of the 1790s it was a country at war. Even the peace of 1797 had not included the most dogged enemy of all, Great Britain. Few experienced statesmen expected continental peace to last long, either. Eventually, renewed war had brought a soldier to power. The most important task facing him was to end it, and end it victoriously. If France was defeated, he could hardly hope to survive to do anything else.

As 1799 came to an end, matters were already drifting his way. The greed and duplicity of the Austrians had placed intolerable strains on a coalition whose armies, by any rational calculation, ought now to have been marching deep into France. But instead of supporting his Russian allies in Switzerland, Thugut diverted the Archduke Charles with the best Austrian troops north to the Rhine; while in Italy his aim was to establish Austrian control of territories Suvorov had won rather than drive the last of the French back over the Alps. Suvorov’s impressive but strategically disastrous retreat through Switzerland in the autumn of 1799, combined with the failure of the Anglo-Russian invasion of the Batavian Republic, left the volatile Paul I believing he had been betrayed by both his main allies in the coalition. By the beginning of 1800 he had resolved to withdraw, and ordered his troops home. The First Consul used the opportunity to propose peace to Francis II and George III—but only on the terms of Campo Formio, that brilliant but unstable triumph. Spurned, as he must have known he would be, he prepared to resume the campaign with a blow against Austria similar to that planned in 1796, with armies striking towards Vienna simultaneously from the Rhine and northern Italy. This time in overall control, like the Directors before him he realized that the Italian theatre should be secondary. But Moreau, commanding on the Rhine, thought the thrust proposed there too bold, and Bonaparte was still not secure enough in power to override him. He therefore decided to stake everything on repeating his own triumphs of 1796 and 1797 in Italy. After building up troops and supplies in eastern France in great secrecy, at the end of April 1800 he crossed the Alps from Switzerland. On 2 June he re-entered Milan, a few days after the French besieged in Genoa since the previous summer surrendered. This meant that when he confronted the Austrians at Marengo on the fourteenth, they had no distractions elsewhere, and he was outnumbered and outgunned. Accordingly he nearly lost the battle. Only fresh reserves at the last minute saved him. But instead of regrouping to fight another day his opponents promptly sued for an armistice, under which they evacuated the whole of Lombardy and Liguria. So the First Consul was able to claim another triumph, and an armistice was soon concluded on the Rhine as well. Once more France offered peace; but the terms were the same, and the Austrians believed themselves strong enough to achieve better ones. In November, fighting resumed, and this time the First Consul was strong enough to insist on a knock-out blow through Germany. It was delivered by Moreau at Hohenlinden, just outside Munich, on 3 December. By Christmas, the fighting was over, and negotiations in earnest began.

The result was the treaty of Lunéville, expedited by the fall of Thugut after the defeats of the summer. It was signed on 9 February 1801. Not only did it confirm the settlement of Campo Formio, with its recognition of Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine as French, and the establishment of French sister republics in northern Italy. It also, while confirming the Austrian hold in Venetia, expelled the Habsburgs from Tuscany. Once more under French occupation, the grand duchy now became a kingdom, Etruria. And its monarch was to be a Bourbon, Louis I, son of the duke of Parma and son-in-law of the king of Spain. When the triumphant Republic began creating kingdoms, and for Bourbons of all people, the end of revolution really must be in sight. Nor was the Parthenopean Republic resurrected further south, The Bourbons of Naples, who also made peace with France in March 1801, lost certain outlying territories and accepted French garrisons in key ports, but in return had their legitimacy recognized. France took more in 1801 from her longest-standing ally than from her enemies. Spain, her client since 1796, ceded her the vast, untracked territory of Louisiana. Spanish ministers thought the price well worth paying for re-establishing their influence (as they hoped) in Italy.

The effect of all these settlements was to leave Great Britain isolated once again. At sea she was still unchallenged, and unchallengeable. In the Mediterranean British squadrons thwarted all attempts to relieve or reinforce the French garrison left in Egypt, and in January 1800 Kléber, its commander, agreed to evacuate. But nothing was done before the European successes of the spring, which encouraged the French to hold out. The First Consul never quite abandoned the dream which had taken him to Egypt, even after the British landed an expedition which in March 1801 forced the surrender of the last French troops there. In September 1800, meanwhile, they had also expelled the French from Malta. Its capture completed the alienation of Paul I from his former coalition allies. As Grand Master of the Knights of St John, he still regarded the island as his by right. He now offered full co-operation to Bonaparte, and began by organizing an ‘armed neutrality’ of Baltic powers to deny the tyrant of the seas access to the ports of northern Europe. But when Denmark, controlling access to the Baltic with its vital naval supplies, joined this new league, Nelson appeared with a squadron which destroyed the Danish fleet in Copenhagen itself on 2 April 1801. Just over a week earlier, Paul I had been assassinated in St Petersburg, and within days Anglo-Russian contacts resumed. By then, however, nobody in London was looking for yet another coalition. When Bonaparte had proposed peace in December 1799, the lofty British response had been to demand a prior restoration of the Bourbons. A year on, they could no longer afford such disdain. France was once more in complete control of the Continent, and intense war-weariness was compounded by economic difficulties to create a new wave of domestic discontent. Ireland, legally united with England in 1801, was still very uncertainly pacified, yet George III had set his face against the measure Pitt thought most likely to expedite that pacification, the admission of Catholics to Parliament. On this pretext Pitt, the most tenacious of all the French Revolution’s enemies, resigned in February 1801. Within days his successor, Addington, was sending out peace feelers to Paris. Bonaparte responded at once, and a summer of negotiations was concluded in preliminaries signed in October.

The terms which at last brought the wars of the French Revolution to an end were an unqualified triumph for France. The Republic made no substantial concessions at all. Of gains made through her control of the seas, Great Britain retained only Ceylon and Trinidad, the first at the expense of the Dutch, the second at that of Spain. The Cape was returned to the Batavian Republic, and the evacuation of Malta promised. It was true that the French agreed to evacuate Egypt, but the British even provided the ships for that. British attempts to secure a follow-up commercial agreement or compensation for the deposed Stadtholder and the king of Piedmont, were brushed aside. There was no explicit British recognition of the Swiss or Italian sister-republics, or the annexation of Belgium, which they had originally gone to war to prevent. But the very act of negotiation was a tacit acknowledgement. The explosion of jubilation throughout England when the preliminaries were announced muted most criticism of these humiliating terms. Accordingly they were enshrined in the final peace signed at Amiens on 25 March 1802.

It was a month short of ten years since revolutionary France had turned to war as an instrument of policy. The vicissitudes of that decade of conflict had transformed the country far more radically than the principles of 1789 had promised to do, and they had transformed much of the rest of western Europe, too. Few could have dreamed in April 1792 that at the end of it all France would have extended her frontiers to the Rhine and the crest of the Alps, and would be in complete control of a blanket of client territories stretching from the North Sea to the Adriatic. Whether or not the effort had been worth while, or even necessary, the outcome was certainly glorious; and Bonaparte made sure that he got most of the credit. ‘It is not sufficiently realised’, he told a Prussian diplomat in July 1800,7 ‘that the French Revolution is not finished so long as the scourge of war lasts … this Revolution could still disturb, upset, and overthrow many states in its course. I want peace, as much to settle the present French government, as to save the world from chaos.’ In the event this peace did not last long, and chaos would soon be extended to areas of Europe scarcely touched in the 1790s. But that was largely the work of the Emperor Napoleon, rather than the Revolution through which he had climbed to power.

Even before war had engulfed the Revolution, French opinion had been polarized over the question of the king. The first major consequence of the war was the creation of a republic, but that proved just as contentious as the rule of Louis XVI. Within weeks of the king’s execution, monarchist rebels began a civil war in the west which was never fully won and seemed on the verge of breaking out afresh in 1799. When allowed to express themselves freely, as in the elections of 1797, massive numbers of French citizens indicated that they preferred a king to the Republic. Many more would willingly have accepted a restoration if it would bring calmer times, or if the king would recognize and guarantee some of the earlier achievements of the Revolution. Much of France, therefore, hoped and expected at the end of 1799 that the First Consul would be the Bourbons’ General Monck, standing aside once his military authority had stabilized the government in favour of the legitimate ruler. The pretender himself cherished such hopes. On 20 February 1800 Louis XVIII wrote in flattering terms to ‘the victor of Lodi, of Castiglione, of Arcoli, the conqueror of Italy and Egypt’, urging him to seize the ultimate glory by restoring the dynasty which alone could ensure France’s tranquillity. Bonaparte proved in no hurry to reply. Until military victory had consolidated his power he had every interest in neutralizing monarchist opinion by keeping up its hopes. But at the same time he moved resolutely to cut off the sources of royalism’s strength.

The greatest immediate threat came from the chouans, who had become active again only weeks before he took power. Yet his very arrival in power disconcerted them, and one by one the various chouan leaders began to make peace. He in turn was prepared to be generous, reminding the western departments in a proclamation of 28 December that freedom of worship was guaranteed under the new constitution, and that the notorious Law of Hostages of the previous summer had been repealed. He also arranged to meet some of the most prominent chouan leaders and urged them to rally to him. ‘The Bourbons no longer have a chance,’ he told them.8 ‘You have done everything you ought to have for them, you are good men, ally yourselves with the side of glory.’ A few remained unconvinced, including Cadoudal, who continued to plot with the British. But most had come to terms by the spring of 1800, and those who had not were ruthlessly tracked down. The Marengo campaign could scarcely have been fought without drawing on the 40,000 troops who only a few months before had been required to garrison the disturbed departments of the west. Success in that campaign in turn secured the First Consul’s own position within France. By 8 September he felt ready to reply to Louis XVIII’s overtures. Addressing the son of St Louis merely as Monsieur, he told him frankly,9 ‘You must not hope for your return to France; you would have to walk over a hundred thousand corpses. Sacrifice your interest to the peace and happiness of France … I shall contribute with pleasure to the sweetness and tranquility of your retirement.’

Meanwhile he was conciliating the émigrés. Although the new constitution forbade their return in any circumstances, the importance of this clause lay in its last sentence: ‘The property of the émigrés is irrevocably vested in the Republic.’ Acquirers of such property were thereby assured that their rights were secure, a commitment that Louis XVIII had never yet made. Provided they accepted these losses, it was soon made clear to the émigrés that they were welcome to return. In March 1800 the list of émigrés was formally closed. In October a general amnesty was declared for all who had taken up arms against the Republic. By now many who had done even this had returned, but no action was taken against them. Simultaneously those whom monarchists, or those attracted by monarchy, feared the most were systematically persecuted—the Jacobins. The pretext for the Brumaire coup had been the prevention of a Jacobin plot, and in the course of it 62 left-wing deputies were excluded from the national representation. No conciliatory gestures were made in their direction, and the new constitution offered them no hope of ever repeating their electoral success of 1799. By the summer of 1800 Jacobin survivors, denounced by the First Consul as ‘terrorists, wretches in perpetual revolt against every form of government … assassins of 3 September, the authors of 31 May, the conspirators of Prairial’,10 were reduced to plotting in cafés, invariably eavesdropped on by Fouché’s ubiquitous agents. But their talk was bloodthirsty enough, and always revolved around assassinating the new ruler of France. Thus the government, at least, was not wholly surprised when, on 24 December 1800, a huge ‘infernal machine’ was exploded in central Paris only moments after the First Consul’s carriage had passed. There were many dead and injured. Bonaparte was convinced that Jacobin plotters were responsible. In fact it was quite the contrary. Fouché was soon able to prove that the bomb was the work of chouans sent to Paris by Cadoudal. His master, however, was not interested. This was a heaven-sent opportunity to strike at the Jacobins: there must be blood. And so there was. Sweeping aside legal formalities, Fouché rounded up 130 Jacobins whose names had been well known to the police for years, and who had grown used to arrest whenever since 1795 the directorial pendulum had swung to the right. Four were guillotined, five shot: most of the rest were deported either to Guiana or (a new penal depository) the Seychelles. None of the real culprits suffered at all for the moment, apart from those blown up in the attempt.

Along with vengeance on men he hated and who hated him, however, Bonaparte had a more calculated motive. ‘This is an opportunity’, he declared to the Council of State,11 ‘of which the government must take advantage … A great example is necessary to reconcile the middle classes to the Republic.’ He meant, of course, a republic headed by himself, and he knew that the surest way of defeating royalism was to make his own rule appear more likely than that of a king to guarantee stability and the security of property. Thus he struck ruthlessly against the levelling heirs of Babeuf, having already cleared away the alarming legislation passed when they had last been influential. The Law of Hostages was abrogated within four days of the Brumaire coup; the forced loan within nine, to be replaced by a small proportional surtax. The State’s creditors were also reassured: in February 1800, 80 years of suspicion and prejudice were jettisoned with the establishment of a state bank, the Bank of France. The following August it was announced that all the State’s debts would henceforth be paid on time, and in cash: over that summer, stock in the ‘consolidated third’ of the debt reorganized by Ramel in 1797 doubled in value. Tax revenues improved dramatically as a regular system of collection, reviving many effective pre-revolutionary practices, was instituted. In 1802, the year of peace, the First Consul was able to proclaim a balanced budget. The underpinnings of these achievements were as yet uncertain, but they were self-reinforcing. The finances of the State appeared every day to be under firmer and more responsible control.

Law and order took on the same appearance. The authority of the central government in the localities was firmly established by the creation of prefects in each department, recalling the intendants swept away in 1789, and with far wider powers than the directorial commissioners who had linked central to local authority between 1795 and 1799. They confronted a situation of disorder and crime which had reached almost epidemic proportions ever since the promulgation of the Jourdan conscription law, which drove thousands of able-bodied young men into lives of banditry and crime as they fled from recruiting officers. In the south, inevitably, they joined royalist gangs harassing local officials, tax-collectors, buyers of national lands, National Guardsmen off duty, former Jacobin activists, and other hate-figures. Elsewhere they blended into roving bands of criminals, known from the way some of them tortured rich victims into submission as ‘warmers’ (chauffeurs). In the first year of the Consulate, as all available troops were drafted to the Rhine and Italy to confront foreign enemies, this crime wave continued unchecked. With the return of peace, not only did the pressure of conscription ease, but returning soldiers were available to enforce the will of the new, centrally appointed local authorities against criminal elements. In February 1801 special criminal courts with wide powers were created to deal with brigandage. Disorder began to subside. And, despite the First Consul’s brazen contempt for legal procedures at the level of high politics, in everyday terms he made careful efforts to present himself as the apostle of the rule of law. Talk of endowing France with a uniform, comprehensive law code had gone on since at least the 1770s. Successive revolutionary assemblies set up commissions to work on the project, but none had brought it to fruition. Bonaparte was determined to do so. In 1800 he set up his own commission, lodged with it the papers and plans of previous ones, and pressed it ceaselessly to produce quick results. He was present himself at 57 of the 102 sessions which produced its first fruit, the Civil Code. Although not formally promulgated until 1804, preliminary drafts were circulating by the end of 1801. In all this, French citizens could admire, as they were meant to, the drive and activity which were elaborating for them a clear set of rules binding the holding and transfer of property. Neither kings nor representative assemblies had been capable of achieving so much, so quickly. And by the time the Code appeared, the last great doubt about the legitimacy and longevity of titles to land acquired during the Revolution had been removed, by a settlement with its oldest and most implacable enemy, the Church.

Nothing had done more to shatter the early revolutionary consensus than the National Assembly’s inept attempt to regenerate the nation’s religious life and organization. No wound of the revolutionary years went deeper, or was reopened more persistently by all parties. And despite a massive, swelling revival of everyday religious practice in France from 1795 onwards, the last phase of the Directory was marked by renewed official anti-clericalism. When Pius VI died a captive in France on 29 August 1799, his traditional capital lost to him and turned into a French sister republic, it was widely assumed in Paris that he would have no successor. The Catholic Church had challenged the Great Nation, and had lost; and, though the ignorant populace might remain mired in credulity and mindless superstition, the Church as an institution was rapidly crumbling away, to the general benefit of humanity.

Bonaparte, however, had never made the mistake of underestimating either the power of religion or the resilience of the Church. Under orders in the spring of 1796 to march on Rome to avenge the murder by a Roman mob of a French envoy, he was confronted by a Spanish emissary from the pontiff.

I told him [the Spaniard reported], if you people take it into your heads to make the pope say the slightest thing against dogma or anything touching on it, you are deceiving yourselves, for he will never do it. You might, in revenge, sack, burn and destroy Rome, St. Peter’s etc. but religion will remain standing in spite of your attacks. If all you wish is that the pope urge peace in general, and obedience to legitimate power, he will willingly do it. He appeared to me captivated by this reasoning …12

Certainly he continued while in Italy to treat the Pope with more restraint than the Directory had ordered; and when, early the next year, the Cispadane Republic was established in territories largely taken from the Holy See, he advised its founders that: ‘Everything is to be done by degrees and with gentleness. Religion is to be treated like property.’13 Devoid of any personal faith, in Egypt he even made parade of following Islam in the conviction that it would strengthen French rule. By the time he returned to Europe, it was already clear that Pope Pius VI would not after all be the last. A conclave of the scattered cardinals had been summoned, and the Austrians allowed it to meet on their new territory in Venice. There, in March 1800, a surprise candidate emerged successful: Chiaramonti, bishop of Imola, who took the name of Pius VII. His chief claim to fame was that in a Christmas sermon of 1797, subsequently (and understandably) printed and distributed by the French invaders, he had declared that Christianity was not necessarily incompatible with either democracy or equality, even quoting Rousseau to reinforce his argument. Here, then, was a pope whose pragmatism might match that of France’s new ruler to produce a solution to the most intractable of all problems thrown up by the Revolution.

Even before the conclave had begun to vote, the First Consul was sending out conciliatory signals. The Directory’s insistence on the observation of the revolutionary calendar’s décadi, rather than Sunday, was quietly dropped, In December 1799 he ordered full funeral honours for Pius VI. The next month he was hinting to representatives of the chouans that their religious grievances would soon be met. And once the cardinals’ choice was made, he lost no time in speaking his mind. On his second entry into Milan, in June 1800, he convoked the city’s clergy to the great cathedral, and declared, even before Marengo was fought:

It is my firm intention that the Christian, Catholic and Roman religion shall be preserved in its entirety, that it shall be publicly performed … No society can exist without morality; there is no good morality without religion. It is religion alone, therefore, that gives to the State a firm and durable support … As soon as I am able to confer with the new Pope, I hope to have the happiness of removing every obstacle which will hinder complete reconciliation between France and the head of the Church.14

Immediately after the battle, he contacted Pius VII with an offer to open negotiations for a new concordat to re-establish the Church in France.

The stakes were high. If the altars of France could be restored, the chief source of popular discontent with the new order would be eliminated. And if the enmity between Paris and Rome could be ended, the alliance between religion and counter-revolution, which had given such obduracy to both, could be prised apart. The inhabitants of sister republics would be conciliated, and new French citizens in Belgium and the Rhineland could embrace the change with relief. On the other hand the whole enterprise bristled with difficulties. Which church was to be restored? There were now two, both claiming legitimacy, both with bodies of apostolically consecrated bishops. How would bishops be appointed in the future? Would the restored church be Gallican, with all the liberties and traditions accumulated since the sixteenth century, and a rich institutional outgrowth of agencies, assemblies, chapters, monasteries, and hospitals? Or would it be more like the spare, utilitarian body the National Assembly had hoped to create in 1790? Above all, who would pay for it? The First Consul ruled out one potential solution to this problem as a pre-condition for even starting negotiations. There could be no question of returning any of the church lands confiscated in 1790 and since sold off. The Pope accepted this readily enough, although he was never to concede the legality of the confiscation, any more than that of the annexation of Avignon. With that understood, negotiations could begin in earnest, which they did in November 1800.

Success was by no means certain. Not until July 1801 was agreement reached, and then only after several near-breakdowns, angry ultimatums from the First Consul, and foot dragging by French ministers who included the arch-apostate and ex-bishop Talleyrand, and the priest turned fervent dechristianizer Fouché. There were also serious misgivings within the college of cardinals. Yet the Concordat as eventually agreed was far from the dictated peace which Bonaparte was able to impose in that year on France’s secular adversaries. It began by facing facts. Catholicism was the religion of the majority of the French. Papal negotiators had wished it to be accepted as dominant, the religion of the State; and when a parallel agreement covering France’s Italian satellites was worked out in subsequent years that was agreed. But in France there were hundreds of thousands of Protestants, and who knew how many sceptical disciples of Voltaire? To them the freedom of belief and worship proclaimed by the Revolution was fundamental, and the First Consul thought so too. It was reiterated in the Concordat’s first article. Even so, a state Church was set up, the Catholic clergy would be paid out of the public purse and appointed, via the bishops, by the government. Bishops, as under the old order, would be designated by the head of state, and invested only with their spiritual authority by the Pope. They and their clergy would take an oath of obedience to the government. In this way, by an agreement with the Pope, the Consulate secured what the National Assembly had been unable to achieve unilaterally and without consultation: a Church organized according to the same principles as the State. In 1790, clergy were to be elected like secular officials: in 1801, bishops became clerical prefects. Under both regimes, there was a close (though not entirely identical) correspondence between civil and ecclesiastical geography.

A defeat, then, for royalist dreams of restoring the full panoply of the old-regime Church; and equally a defeat for the Jacobin doctrine of complete separation between Church and State. The survivors of the much-maligned constitutional Church, now calling itself by the historic title of Gallican, and allowed to convene a council of 40 bishops in Notre-Dame in June 1801 to show their strength, could believe themselves vindicated. From the exile in which all but a handful of them still lived, refractory prelates feared that Bonaparte, in restoring the altars, would prefer to hand them over to a clergy which had never renounced the Revolution. But in fact, at the same time as he had refused to discuss challenging the land settlement, the First Consul had demanded another pre-condition from the Pope. All existing bishops, constitutional or refractory, must be deprived. Any settlement must have a completely fresh beginning. The Pope made no objection; for to make such a request was to acknowledge that he had powers which no secular ruler had ever before recognized. Once agreement was reached, they were invoked. By the Brief Tam multa, he appealed to all refractory bishops to surrender their powers to him. Of the 93 surviving, 55 obeyed, as they had obeyed his predecessor’s injunction to reject the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Those refusing, he deprived. Since Rome had never recognized the legitimacy of constitutional ordinations, no such measures were required in the case of the constitutional Church. Bonaparte did what was necessary, ordering their council to disperse unacknowledged. The Pope was shocked, however, when he went on to nominate 12 constitutionals to the new bench, all but two of whom refused to retract the oath they had taken in 1790. And greater shocks were still to come. By the 77 ‘Organic Articles’ added unilaterally to the Concordat just prior to its promulgation in April 1802, the power of the Pope to communicate with the French clergy was circumscribed even more closely than under the Gallican days before 1789. Louis XIV’s four anti-papal ‘Gallican Articles’ of 1682 were once more to be taught in all schools and seminaries. But by now, as the First Consul had calculated, Pius VII recognized that it was too late to imperil the whole settlement by quibbling, however important the issues. No doubt many of them could be cleared up later. Other provisions, anyway, were positively welcome, such as the final abandonment of the décadi in favour of Sunday. All, in any case, paled into insignificance beside the fact that free exercise of the faith in France had been restored, the hierarchy was back in place, and the authority of the papacy had received far more fulsome recognition from the heirs of a Godless revolution than ever it had won from the Most Christian Kings of the old regime.

Nothing the First Consul had done was more controversial. To many, the re-establishment of the Church seemed a renunciation of all that the Revolution had stood for or, as one disgusted general put it, all that 100,000 men had died for. But yet a further revolutionary legacy would be cast aside before the Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X, which comprised both the Concordat and the Organic Articles, was passed. The last vestiges of free parliamentary life were stifled in the purge of the Tribunate and Legislative Body of January 1801. Nominated by Sieyès and the Senate in December 1799, the members of these bodies were chosen for their likely pliancy, but they were not nonentities. Only 47 out of 400 had not sat before in any of the various revolutionary assemblies, so they were familiar with deliberative procedures and the ways of legislatures, and found it hard to accept that their only function was to endorse what the First Consul had decided. Nor had this been the intention of Sieyès in drafting the constitution. Now, disgruntled at the turn of events, he encouraged his friends in the Tribunate to criticize proposed legislation openly, to Bonaparte’s increasing irritation. His critics in the Tribunate, the First Consul declared, were abstract ‘metaphysicians’ who deserved drowning. He would not, he warned, let himself be defied like Louis XVI—a pregnant comparison. Even the consolidation of his position after Marengo, or the wave of obvious public relief when he survived the ‘infernal machine’ assassination attempt, failed to mute their criticisms. By the spring of 1801, it is true, only six bills had been rejected, and another six withdrawn, but much more vigorous opposition was feared in the session of the Year X (1801–2), when the Concordat would need to be enacted as a law of the State. When the houses convened in November, even some of the victorious peace treaties laid before them attracted carping, while measures to expedite the drafting of the Civil Code ran into what the head of state regarded as malicious obstruction. When the Tribunate nominated for the Senate Daunou, a constitutional authority who had led opposition to a bill to set up special tribunals to deal with rural brigandage, he took it as a deliberate challenge. He felt he must act before the Concordat was discussed. The studied obscurity of the constitution was now invoked to good effect. It stipulated that the membership of the two houses should be renewed in the Year X, but neither how nor precisely when. This was therefore declared as good a moment as any, and the Senate was ordered to conduct the operation by naming those who would remain members. Sixty names were by this means dropped from the Legislative Body, and 20 from the Tribunate. There was no resistance, and within a few months many of those eliminated had been found official positions elsewhere. Public reaction to this first legislative purge since Brumaire is hard to gauge. By this time the independent press had largely disappeared. But police reports suggested that all café talk in Paris was on the First Consul’s side, and contemptuous of functionaries who represented nobody and yet constantly bit the hand that fed them. The main source of public concern was now reported to be the safety of the First Consul’s life, a far surer guarantee of stability and order than the antics of politicians, whose incapacity more than a decade of upheaval and uncertainty had vividly demonstrated.

In this atmosphere the Concordat was at last presented to the legislature between 5 and 8 April, as news of the Peace of Amiens was trumpeted throughout the country. It was not quite unopposed, but it passed overwhelmingly. Over the next two months, a whole series of new measures would also be presented—to reorganize education, to create a new Legion of Honour, and to extend the First Consul’s term of office. Before the year was out, Bonaparte would be Consul for life, and France would almost have a king again.

Meanwhile, however, April 1802 was to be a month of celebration. It culminated on the eighteenth, Easter Day, with a solemn mass to mark the resurrection of the Catholic Church in France. It was held in Notre-Dame in the presence of the First Consul, the entire government, and the diplomatic corps. The preacher was the 70-year-old Boisgelin, once archbishop of Aix, now of Tours. A nobleman of old stock, he had delivered the sermon at the coronation of Louis XVI. As then, he celebrated a new beginning; but the jubilant crowds who thronged Paris that day, thrilled by the boom of cannon and the ringing of bells silent since 1793, and the people of quality who lit their windows when night fell, were not thinking about what the future might bring. With the end of the war, the elimination of political strife, and the restoration of religious freedom, they were celebrating the burial of the Revolution.

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